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Son of the Soil for the Upper House

It has been an odd practice, but Uttarakhand has rarely had a Rajya Sabha member from Uttarakhand.

While Harish Rawat was elected to the upper house in 2002, and Bhagat Singh Koshiyari is currently still serving a term (incidentally, both were sent to the Rajya Sabha for the same reason — being overlooked for the CM position in 2002 and 2007 respectively), most other members have not been of Garhwali or Kumaoni origin. Besides belonging to Madhya Pradesh, outgoing Congress member Satyavrat Chaturvedi has rarely been seen in the state and the BJP’s Tarun Vijay is better known as a national level RSS ideologue even though he was born in Dehradun.

As such the nomination of veteran Congress politician Mahendra Singh Mahra, popularly known as Mannu Bhai, represents somewhat of a breakthrough for the grassroots. Mahra is from Pithoragarh and has been a member of the party since 1972. He has worked closely with Harish Rawat since 1980 when Rawat was first elected to the Lok Sabha and Mahra served on the Uttar Pradesh hill development council. He later leaped to the UP state assembly in 1989, winning again in 1993 and in the Uttarakhand assembly in 2002 and 2007. He was the agriculture minister under the Tiwari administration, and had his ear to rural concerns. Meanwhile the BJP’s nominees, Anil Goyal and Naresh Bansal, come from the Agarwal business community.

Whether projecting Mahra as candidate will cut ice with Rawat remains uncertain. For most observers, the jury is still out on the Bahuguna government lasting, even though the tide of rebellion has begun to ebb. Legitimate regional and caste antagonisms have been stirred up, further splintering an already divided party. Selecting Mahra is a step towards reconciliation, but as Harish Rawat knows full well, a seat in the upper house is a consolation prize.